As sports journalists, it isn’t often that our work comes full circle. Aside from hit counts and the ever-so enticing user comments at the bottom of the screen, we as the media rely mostly on our co-workers and editors to judge whether or not our work is up to par with our effort and agenda. In many ways, being a sports journalist requires strong self-motivation and self-confidence to work in a field that many would consider to be a thankless job.
But after watching Denver quarterback Peyton Manning present his 2013-2014 Sportsman of the Year Acceptance speech, the inspiration to produce quality journalism was restored. Not only did Manning’s speech bring a level of emotion that was captured in the very articles that Sports Illustrated had produced about him over the years, but it also brought a sense of satisfaction to the media that every sports journalist aspires to receive on a daily basis.
If you haven’t already seen it, Manning begins his 14-minute speech by thanking the group of people that have helped him become one of the most respected players in NFL history. From his wife Ashley to Bronco legend John Elway, Manning did his best to fire off a brief list of people that have stuck with him throughout his 16-year career.
He even added a couple of crowd-warming jokes that involved coach John Fox and his early bedtime.
“I’d like to be brief tonight, but I would like to recognize a couple of people, thank a few others and then talk a little bit about Sports Illustrated and my history with the magazine,” Manning said. “I know it’s a Monday night, people have to work tomorrow and our coach has be in bed by 9 p.m., so I’m going to try and be brief.”
But what may surprise you is the list of writers he mentioned throughout his speech. While the event was solely catered around Sports Illustrated and their appreciation towards the future Hall of Fame quarterback, Manning continually added a list of Sports Illustrated writers he believes to impacted his career. For sports journalists, this was recognition we all wish to receive one day.
The one moment that stuck out for me was midway through the speech when Manning began to list off Sports Illustrated articles about his father, Archie Manning. In this moment, Manning showed not only his genuine gratitude towards his father, but also captured the true beauty of what a story can mean to an individual.
From William Reed (1970) to Paul Zimmerman (1981), Manning gave the biggest shout out a journalist could ever hope to receive.
“I remember staring at the article (Reed) and looking at the pictures in the article, over and over and over again, wondering what my dad was thinking at the time as a 21-year old quarterback,” Manning said. “Both articles taught me a lot about my father as a college player and as a pro player that I wouldn’t have known normally. Things that made me very proud to be his son.”
Since reading that first Sports Illustrated article in 1970, Manning has felt like part of the Sports Illustrated family, and above all else, the circle of trust found within the confines of sports media. And while Manning has had his share of ups and downs with the tabloids, one thing has remained constant: the two-way relationship between Manning and his writers.
Not all of us have the opportunity to receive recognition from one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history, but the lesson here is to strive to write in search of creating memorable work. Manning taught me to write in a way that doesn’t worry about the hit count, but to make stories that still have an impact 40 years down the road. Stories may be thrown out on an hourly basis, but Manning proved that work that captures memories can last a lifetime.
“To Sports Illustrated, you truly are an institution,” Manning said. “For a moment in time, my dad and I got to be college football players together and I only think Sports Illustrated could have accomplished something like that. It was a very special cover (1981), special something to be a part of and my dad and I have signed thousands of these magazines that have come through fan mail. Over the years, it is by far my favorite.”